Appalachian Basin

A Dimock Tale

Every now and again you come across a tale.  A tale grips your imagination and transports your mind to lands unknown and events often unforeseen and spectacular.  Tales often are rooted in true events but take on a life of their own when recounted by different individuals further removed from events that originally inspired the story.  Tales shape our nursery rhymes, our national history and our running collection of old wives tales.  Some, unfortunately, are not so benign.  A recent story from Glasgow, Scotland provides an example.  This is a tale of Dimock, Pennsylvania and, unfortunately, it’s a fairy tale –  light on facts and heavy on speculation and embellishment.  Indeed, the only difference between this tale and its many ancestors is this one is being spun under the guise of “credible journalism” with the most recent installment brought to you by the Herald Scotland, a journal we wouldn’t normally worry about.  But, hey, this is Dimock and we don’t stand by when Dimock is maligned – by anyone.

Over the weekend the Herald had an agenda.  It wanted to inform its readership of its opinions on natural gas development.  So, it published an article parroting many of the false claims perpetuated by Josh Fox and other natural gas opponents.    Knowing the residents of Dimock and how they have been unfairly treated, we are compelled to bring some context and facts to counter the claims levied by this alarmist rehashing of speculation regarding natural gas development.  We are tempted to relate how Sir William Wallace was routed by the English  at every turn only to die penniless and a disgrace to all of Scotland.

We’ll let Scottish sympathizers debunk that tale while we debunk the Herald:

  • Myth: “Professor Terry Engelder, whose department at Pennsylvania State University is substantially funded by energy companies…”

Reality: Terry Engelder is an esteemed professor at this state supported academic institution which receives four primary sources of revenues: tuition and fees, state-aid appropriations, capital campaign and endowment revenue and revenue from athletic programs.  A further breakdown can be found here.  Penn State, like all other pre-eminent institutions does receive targeted funding for research initiatives from private industry and government alike.  Suggestions this particular department is “substantially funded by energy” is, at best, a gross mis-characterization.  Targeted research is funded independent of the school’s general programming and educational curriculum.

  • Myth: “The Sautners are lifelong Republicans and born-again Christians… In three years spent fighting unsuccessfully to get Cabot to accept liability for their ruined water supply.”

Reality: Cabot Oil and Gas has worked with nearly all of the residents affected by events in Dimock to ensure these families have adequate water supplies.  This is despite the fact Cabot has not been proven responsible for well contamination in Dimock. They provided water treatment systems and have taken actions required by the Department of Environmental Protection concerning mitigation of some natural gas wells in the area. Further, Cabot paid these families twice the assessed value of their homes for their inconveniences – again without being found at fault.

All but a vocal minority of Dimock families are happy with their water.  Many are now asking DEP to re-open the area to natural gas production. We had a resident write about that on our blog here.  If the situation were so dire, as the Herald would have us believe, these families wouldn’t be writing DEP to bring natural gas production back.  Also, the water in Dimock is fine.  You can find us drinking it straight from one resident’s well here and here.

  • Myth: “On August 3rd, a group of the plaintiffs unveiled a billboard in the nearby town of South Montrose, listing chemicals in the Sautners water supply…Cabot’s press agent was on hand to call it a distortion, with supporters backing him up.  The advert was pulled.”

Reality: Cabot, on a number of occasions, had the Sautners well tested by impartial labs. The results, which are available here, have shown no contamination from any chemicals.  These tests show methane was the only contaminant in the Sautners well and was below the EPA threshold.  Keep in mind methane is common  in this part of Pennsylvania.  There are, throughout our region, many people who can turn on their faucets and light them on fire because of naturally occurring methane in their well water, where there is no hydraulic fracturing.  Don’t take it from us, though; check out Saba 2011 hydraulic fracturing, which was published by the National Academy of Sciences. Also, one pesky little fact here is the Sautner’s refuse to disclose any tests on their water supply to contradict the findings their well is not contaminated.  Interesting fact, indeed.

  • Myth: “The Energy Policy Act of 2005, gas firms are granted exemptions from the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act and other legislation designed to protect the environment.  Written at the decree of then vice-president Dick Cheney, these provisions are known as the Halliburton Loophole.”

Reality: Wow. this one is especially bad.  First of all, even the most devout natural gas opponents recognize the so-called “Halliburton loophole” is only applicable to the Safe Drinking Water Act.  However, this “loophole” was not an exemption, it was a clarification after an Alabama court ruled that the practice of fracturing should be regulated under the underground injection program (a requirement it was never meant to be subjected to and hadn’t been since fracturing began decades earlier).  The U.S. Congress, seeing this misinterpretation and knowing fracturing was not an underground disposal process, exempted the activity.  It did so only after the completion of an EPA study which found no threat to water resources from fracturing.  Also, hydraulic fracturing is tightly regulated, a full understanding of these regulations can be found here and here.

  • Myth: There have been comparatively few studies on hydraulic fracturing’s environmental impact.

Reality: Try being a U.S. taxpayer and uttering this nonsensical claim. In 2004, EPA conducted an extensive review of hydraulic fracturing in coalbed methane.  Following this, EPA is now conducting an additional review of hydraulic fracturing’s potential impact on water supplies.  This report is expected in 2012. Then there’s this study, recently released from the Department of Energy. There is also this comprehensive report of state regulations protecting environmental resources in natural gas production. There’s also the multi-disciplinary report conducted by the Massachussets Institute of Technology on benefits and impacts from natural gas production from shale. Of course, there is also the U.S. Department of Energy’s study entitled the “Environmental Benefits of Advanced Oil and Gas Exploration Technology.”   We could go on, and on.

  • Myth: “a recent study by scientists at Duke University found water wells within a kilometre of nautral gas drilling in the Marcellus and Utica shale formations contained vastly increased quantities of methane, suggesting the gas many be reaching the surface through cracks and abandoned wells.”

Reality: The infamous, and heavily relied upon Duke study, used no baseline water testing and an incomplete data-set.  It also produced findings multiple researchers say did not support its conclusions. In fact, it supported the opposite.  We wrote on that here.  Here is just a snippet of some larger findings about the Duke study from one researcher. All underlying data is available here.

“Data show that average methane concentrations in nonactive [areas without natural gas production] was 1.5mgl and the only sampled active area [areas with natural gas production] was 0.3mgl”.  Methane higher in wells nowhere near gas production that in areas with gas production. Seems opposite of what Duke reported to the public.

Another researcher poking holes in Duke’s findings taking into account historical facts and methane present in the natural environment in this section of Pennsylvania.  You can find this document here.  Below are quotables.

Their report [Duke] does not fully appreciate the geologic history of this region and misrepresents potential risks of modern drilling and completion techniques used to develop shale gas resources.

Knowledge of significant methane as a natural constituent of groundwater in this region long predates the recent development of shale gas resources.

In close proximity to natural gas wells, many water samples showed low concentrations of methane.  This shows that elevated methane concentrations are not an inevitable effect of drilling.

The data presented simply do not support the interpretation put forth that shale-gas development is leading to methane migration from the Marcellus into shallow groundwater.

  • Myth: This little gem is probably the worst in the entire article.  A quote from Anthony Ingraffea, a well known industry critic about the practices of natural gas production in Pennsylvania. claiming that every day there is a spill, leak or valve improperly closed, etc. leading the reader to believe Pennsylvania is a toxic wasteland.  Once again, the data doesn’t support that.

Reality: This quote is likely referring to violations producers have been cited with by the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) over the past few years.  A majority of these violations were due to improper development of erosion and sediment control plans.  They are hardly earth shattering, as producers can simply amend these plans and implement the amended version with no harm to the environment.  It is a “miracle and curse” statistic as it shows DEP is holding producers accountable to stringent regulations.  Of course this is much easier to do since DEP recently more than doubled enforcement staff, increasing employees from 88 to 202.  This hiring spree occurred at the same time Josh Fox was telling the world that DEP’s staff was “decimated” by budget cuts.

  • Myth: “Nationally, the EPA estimates fracking consumed between 70 and 140 billion gallons of water last year.”

Reality: Luckily this one just needs context.  While this may seem like a lot at the macro level, a study by Carnegie Mellon university on natural gas production impacts in the Marcellus Shale found the amount of water required to drill all 2,916 wells permitted in Pennsylvania in the first 11 months of 2010 equal the amount of drinking water used by just one city, Pittsburgh, during the same period.

Now, that’s a tale, the mother of all tales, in fact.


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